It’s been a while, but here is the long-awaited next chapter of the “Secrets of Manga” series.
Last time, we talked about how having “something to convey” was necessary in order to draw manga. But how do I come up with something to convey? Normally, I just use things that stick in your mind, or my feelings on certain things. I read books and do research to add meat to the idea, and then I’m finished.
Do you still remember what we talked about? If not, you can review the last article here.
Even people who appear to just be living in a daze, without giving much thought to anything, have to have feelings about certain things. “Work sucks.” “I don’t want to go to school.” “I wish that girl liked me.” “I want to go and eat at that restaurant again.”
What you want to express = what you want to convey to someone.
Today, we’ll be talking how I came up with something to convey in “New Give My Regards to Black Jack.”
Before drawing this, I had a lot of trouble with my editor, and I wasn’t sure whether I should really just suppress my own feelings and do as they said, or whether I should work hard to push my own desires forward. It was easier just to do as they said, but my self-consciousness kept getting in the way.
During that period, I read a lot of medical books, and wondered if all this frustration wasn’t the very thing that I wanted to convey.
“The main character goes to the urology department next to continue his training. This becomes a story about a dialysis patient with diabetes who gets a live kidney transplant. This patient is a friend of the main character’s, and has been suffering with Type 1 diabetes since childhood. The main character thinks about donating his own kidney, but multiple ethical problems stand in his way. Yet he still wants to donate his kidney. Is it egotism? Should transplant medicine be outlawed?”
This is what I wanted to convey in this manga.
But it’s merely a mold. It’s important, but it only becomes clearer after meat is added to it. Terayama Shuuji-san was the one who said “Throw away your books and go into town,” right? There’s no need to throw away your books, but after you read them, it’s probably a good idea to go out and collect data.
Anyone can collect data. There are certain things you can’t do unless you belong to the media, as well as if you don’t have a publisher backing you. Mangaka included. But it all just really depends on how invested you are in it.
I began by looking up contact information for university hospitals on the internet, then sent out mails to ten of them. I apologized for my rudeness in contacting them so suddenly, then introduced myself and asked if they would let me collect data there. See? Anyone can do it.
Of course, none of them agreed to let me do it. I was able to talk to one place on the phone, but they told me “We don’t deal with manga at our hospital.”
During my serialization, I always thought about the possibility of switching magazines, so I never gave out the magazine name when I was collecting data, and always did all the work myself. “I don’t need a publisher to back me to do this,” I thought. That was when I realized just how cold the world could be to someone who isn’t attached to a publishing company.
“Hi, I’m a mangaka named Sato Shuho.” Yep. No one cares.
Still, it didn’t mean that it was totally impossible. I returned to the internet and checked for places that allowed study tours. I learned that one NPO allowed student visits, so I immediately sent them a mail and went to collect data. I wrote a list of questions in a notebook and took some rice crackers with me as a gift.
I listened to them, found out the differences between what was written in my books and the real world, and started to understand transplant medicine in a different way.
However, I wasn’t able to see actual transplants or talk with patients that had received them. I had reached another dead end. I did learn that there existed groups of people who had received transplants, so I sent them a mail too, but I got no reply.
After more researching, I found that these groups put on education events for other patients and media. So, after learning that university hospitals also put on demonstrations for patient study and the media, I went to visit all of them.
I gave my card to every person I met there, but I didn’t find any chance to do any real research.
See? Anyone can do it.
I lived in Tokyo, so I had limited myself to only research opportunities in Eastern Japan, and I started to think that this had been a bad idea. And so, one day, I tried going to an event geared toward patients thinking about organ transplants that was happening in Western Japan. It was put on by an organ transplant organization, and a doctor came to give a lecture, so I listened to him and then went to the meet-and-greet afterwards and gave him my card. I also met a transplant coordinator there. Meetings like this always happen suddenly.
See? If you just keep it up, anyone can get this far.
Finally, I had gotten some real research done, so I contacted my editor for the first time and went to go watch some surgery. The doctors who I contacted them were very happy to help out, and even let me interview their patients. I went to Western Japan many times during that period to do interviews and watch surgery.
Meanwhile, I met with the transplant coordinator. This person had been a nurse before becoming a coordinator, and as they told me about the problems they had experienced while working as a nurse, they decided to put on a round-table discussion with their old co-workers, so I went to that too.
This time I traveled to Kyushu. There, I was introduced to a doctor from the university hospital where the coordinator used to work, so I decided to interview him. At the nurse round-table discussion, they talked about romantic relationships with the doctors, so I decided to put that into the manga as well.
During this, they asked me if I would draw some art for pamphlets, so I did it free of charge, of course. I had them introduced me to everyone they could, and I did whatever I could to help. Whenever I went to do research, I brought rice crackers with me, and always made sure to schedule the next appointment. And that’s basically how it went. Money never came up once.
The doctor whose surgery I studied also introduced me to another doctor who approached transplant medicine from a different point of view, so I went to go interview him as well.
He was in Hiroshima. He was proactive about working in organ transplants between unrelated people into his work, and had stopped working as an insurance doctor. That’s where I learned that people had differing opinions on transplant medicine, and that the practice was not monolithic.
That doctor introduced me to a dialysis hospital, and told me that organ transplants were not always the best solution. I met patients who had Type I diabetes and went to the houses of families of people who had decided to become organ donors in the event of brain death. Whenever I met someone I would be introduced to someone else, so I ended up jumping all over the country — on my own dime, of course.
Whenever a brain death transplant happened, the organ transplant network would put on a media event with the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Welfare, so I managed to get myself a special pass inside, and then all of a sudden, I was listening to the chairman of the organ transplant society speak.
I think in terms of total research sessions, I did about 50. See? Anyone can do it.
While researching, my vision for the manga changed a lot. More and more ideas just kept pouring out, and I was busy just trying to slim it all down. In any case, once I had gotten that far, the idea of not having anything to convey had become an impossibility.
I started to feel like I was no longer an amateur at this. I had put out a semi-hit and almost become an author of medium standing. But what was I supposed to do next?
Music-wise, it was like a new band who first few albums had been hits. Once their fourth or fifth album comes up, they’re faced with a choice. Do they keep going along the path that they know will sell, or do they start to experiment with their interests a little?
Then, I remembered that egotism was one of my themes. In the end, I decided to lower the emphasis on business, and focus more on how to seriously confront my readers. The more I do research, the more I get overwhelmed with that sort of stuff, but after the research is done, it’s best to drop it all temporarily. I go back to square one, remember what it is that I originally wanted to say, and then let my imagination run free.
That’s how I come up with something to convey.
And that’s pretty much all I wanted to say with this series.
Artists start by coming up with something to convey. Then they create changes from start to finish in order to frame this idea in a story. Up to this point, the process may be exactly the same for manga and novels.
In order to express an idea well in manga, it needs good panel structure and rhythm. Readers’ eyes need to be guided, and dialog needs to be created so that the idea can be conveyed to the readers without any stress. I imagine this is how most of the manga you read is created. All authors have varying methods, but I think the overall process is pretty similar.
Learning how manga is made makes manga more fun to read. Next time you read manga, try and think about what I’ve written here as you read through. The manga may start to look different to you.
For now, the “Secrets of Manga” series is over. If I get an idea or come up with something else I want to say, I may write a continuation. Thank you very much for sticking with me all the way through.